So, You Want To Amend The Constitution, Huh?

Lately, talk of amending Slovenian constitution is in vogue, it seems. Janez Janša‘s SDS announced it but failed to give it substance, Gregor Golobič‘s Zares presented their own version and gave it some substance and the government of Borut Pahor as a whole announced it is joining the fun as well. High time for pengovsky to chip as well, so try this on for size:


Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia (source)

Abolish the National Council. I mean, what’s with having special interest parliamentary representation in the first place? Sure, it’s nice to hear the voice of all walks of life when passing policy decisions, but there are ways to do it other than creating a second chamber and then amputating it from the start. Fourty-four representatives, all of them elected indirectly is an utterly failed attempt to mix the U.S. Senate with element of corporatism which serves no real purpose but to give give a group of people without a clear mandate the power to call a referendum and generally spend away taxpayer’s money. Cut the crap and create a true single-chamber parliament. Life will be much easier for everyone. After-all it is not as if people sitting in the National Council don’t have enough power as it is through various unions, industrial and commerce chambers and other pressure groups.

Increase number of MPs to 121. Not just because 121 is 11 squared (a nice number, ain’t it), which would make it possible for eleven MPs to be elected in each of the eleven voting units (an increase of three from the existing eight per voting unit). It would also decrease the number of voters per MP, thus increasing the relative representation of the people and – perhaps most importantly – give us an odd number of MPs, preventing the possibility of a 50/50 stalemate in the parliament. And you know how awkward that can be.

Institute a mayor/MP conflict of interest In fact, institute a conflict of interest between serving as an MP and serving as any other elected official, be it on municipal or regional level. Each and every MP represents the entire population of Slovenia. Not just his immediate voting precinct or unit. Mayors who also serve as MPs tend to a) support decisions which are in favour of their municipality and not necessarily in the interest of the entire country and b) have the possibility to indulge in pork-barrel politics, often at the expense of other parts of the country. This simply can not go on. There are municipalities running out of space for new state-funded infrastructure and highway-exits, while others still have problem stuff as basic as sewage.

And don’t forget, you can achieve this also by simply passing the appropriate law.

Amend election rules. This was done before, so it is nothing new, even though you could (as with previous item) get it done by amending the law and not necessarily the constitution itself. Specifically, what is needed is introducing an absolute preferential vote, whereby voters would vote for a specific candidate and thereby vote for candidate’s political party. Should the candidate not receive enough votes to be elected to the parliament, his votes would be added to the votes other candidates of the same party received within the same voting unit and then divided proportionally among those candidates, starting from the top of the list. Technically, this is called “proportional system with strong elements of majority system” and was actually called for by the Constitutional Court. So despite the fact that it is Gregor Golobič’s Zares which advocates this measure (and the one about conflict of interests), it should not be viewed as a party position but as a long-overdue and fundamentally necessary amendment to the constitution.

Create regions Six of them, with Ljubljana having special status as the capital city. True, you’d be creating yet another level of administration, but the advantages are numerous. You can strip the 210-or-so Slovene municipalities of most of their competences and transfer them to regional level. If you want equal access to things like health and education, you can not have municipalities handling it, because most of them don’t have enough money to provide either, let alone maintain their existing infrastructure (unless of course their mayors serve as MPs). This would also enable you to redistribute personal income tax revenue on a much more efficient level. As things stand now this revenue is directed to municipalities’ coffers, which is one of the main incentives for continuous creation of new municipalities (that and the notion that the state will chip in whatever monies the municipality is short on). This of course leads to a lot of municipalities handling minute amounts of cash. Do this on a regional level, however, and suddenly you can actually do stuff with that money. As a side-effect, less money will from central budget and municipalities will suddenly find that they will be better off if they unite rather than split up.

Oh, and why six regions? Because this is the numbers of dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church in Slovenia. People are used to this division. It is also a division which has stood the test of time plus the borders are already drawn. This is probably one of the few good ideas the Catholic Church had in this part of the world, so why not use it?

Simplify the procedure for establishing government As things stand now, the President nominates the candidate for prime minister, who must survive the vote in the parliament. He/she then assembles the cabinet, submits candidates for ministers to a parliamentary hearing process (which has no legal effects whatsoever) and then has to survive the vote again in order to have a fully empowered government. This is bullshit. It was fun while Slovenia still had the assembly system (three-chamber parliament, a delegate system without freedom of vote, the works), but in a liberal democracy things just don’t work well that way. First of all, why should the PM go through the same procedure twice in as many weeks? Why should it take two or more weeks to establish a government anyhow? And why shouldn’t the PM be able to fire ministers on the spot? He/she can’t do it under the existing system. Since the parliament appointed the minister it is only the parliament who can dismiss him/her, effectively tying the PM’s hands and possibly putting him in the position of having to work with an uncooperative minister. It has happened, you know.

If there is a clear parliamentary majority (which would always be at hand if we had an odd number of MPs), there really is no need for such a prolonged process. The power to nominate the candidate for PM would still be with the President and after the parliament appointed the prime minister he/she would simply assemble his cabinet and send the list to the president for approval. And if you really need a safeguard, you can empower the Prez do refuse the cabinet list, at which point the PM-in-waiting would have to ask the parliament to vote on his cabinet. The same would apply for dismissal of a particular minister. Or, if you want the really effective version, you can leave the power to appoint and dismiss ministers solely with the PM, once he is appointed by the parliament. In any case, you have a much more effective government and a much stronger leadership role by the PM. And most importantly, the loyalties of individual ministers can no longer be torn between the government in which they serve and the parliament this appointed them.

Don’t mess with referendum. Just because the opposition fucked you with referendum bids a couple of times, this doesn’t mean that you can go about limiting who can call a referendum. OK, so it might be prudent to increase the number of signatures needed to start the referendum bid in the first place, but you don’t have to change a constitution to achieve that. Always remember that the point of the referendum is to check moves and motives of an excessively autocratic government (or parliamentary majority).

The fact that referendum provisions are being abused to block legitimate policies on a daily basis is not a legal question but rather a question of political manners. Because as long as no punches are being pulled as long as playing hard-ball is the norm rather than the exception and as long as any end will justify any means, so long will legislation and rules and procedures continue to be abused to derail policy agendas just for the fun of it. There is no way you can limit the system of checks and balances in a manner that will be both democratic and prevent abuse. You just can’t do it. It simply isn’t possible.

And should you by any chance manage to institute such limitations, trust me, they will come to haunt you faster than you can say “election defeat” (if you catch my meaning).

This, basically, is it. Anything beyond the above will either result in fundamental restructuring of the republic or will simply be yet another abuse of democratic mechanism aimed at paving the way to power without presenting anything close to a viable political platform.

And this is the gist of it, methinks. What this country needs is not some sort of a new social contract or (God forbid) a Second Republic, but rather a common awareness among political players that destructive behaviour will only increase the amount of shit we all will have to deal with. Fact of the matter is that lately nothing is sacred any more. Even the legislative procedure is abused in order to facilitate a desired outcome, case in point being the last events on establishing municipality of Ankaran (more on that some other time). The problems this country is facing are real and institutional changes can only take you so far. Especially if you play around with the constitution, which is suppose to stand the test of time rather than be changed according to daily (political) needs.

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Second Republic Revisited

As expected, the big coalition pow-wow turned out to be a non-event with a predictable result. PM Borut Pahor outlined six priorities his government has to tackle in the remaining 18 months which effectively remain until elections, for all his boasting Karl Erjavec of DeSUS was sidelined and his cajoling to re-open the issue of pension reform was apparently ignored by the rest of the coalition partners. LDS and Zares pointed out a couple of issues they intend to stick to outside the immediate six-point priority plan (the new Family Code and the issue of Patria APCs respectively, to pick examples at random), while the Social Democrats have problems of their own, especially regarding the fate of finance minister Franci Križanič for whom the Court of Audit recommended a demission for dereliction of duty. In short: rumours of this coalition’s demise were greatly exaggerated.


Janez Janša during his particular pow-wov Saturday last (source: SDS)

However, that is no to say that Monday’s huddle was all about sipping tea and checking sports results. Waves were created especially by Gregor Golobič who stepped in front of the press late on Friday, just in time to make the evening news and plenty of ink in Saturday’s newspapers. Leader of Zares made plenty of noises about the need to change the constitution to break the impasse this country apparently found itself at. What made Golobič’s proposal intriguing was the fact that only days earlier Janez Janša and his SDS floated their very own idea of constitutional changes, claiming that the time was ripe for a “second republic” which should break the impasse this country apparently found itself at.

Although Golobič said that he had no problem cooperating with anyone, even Janša on constitutional changes and Janša too said that he would work with anyone to bring about the necessary changes, one should no go ga-ga over it. Rather, what we’ve seen is a cheap political bluff on Janša’s side with Goobič calling it as soon as possible.

La deuxième république

SDS leader talked at length about the need to create the “second republic” which would effectively tackle issues of today much like the “first republic” more or less successfully tackled issues of a fledgling democracy Slovenia was twenty years ago (and then some). The thing is that apart from a fancy but possibly embarrassing name, Janša thus far has little to show for this second republic of hid. Truth be told, he said that the new and improved constitution would be outlined until the end of the year by which time SDS would be ready to take power once again.

At this stage it is not entirely known whether this latest constitutional dash by Janša has anything to do with his previous exploits of this nature, the last of which was his ten-point-plan for constitutional changes which he floated in 2009 upon being re-elected to the post of SDS commander-in-chief president. But given the fact that he scheduled the new constitutional draft eleven months from now suggest, that SDS will go back to the old drawing board and start from scratch. Again.

“Second republic” is a bit unfortunate name. Not only did Borut Pahor use it way back in 2000-2004 term when he was serving as president of the parliament during governments of Janez Drnovšek and Tone Rop, but also because both Janša today and Pahor back then were obviously alluding to the French Second Republic, which was of rather ill fate an ended with a coup d’etat by Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, from then on known as Napoleon III. Obviously, I’m not saying Janša wants to perform a coup d’etat (we’re past that, methinks), but there could be an echo of the subconscious here 😉

50+

I’m joking, obviously. But Janša apparently is not. He made it perfectly clear that he intends to increase the number of seats in the parliament in 2012 elections and with help of “compatible” parties (namely SLS and NSi) gain not only an absolute, but a two-thirds majority, enabling him to go through with constitutional-changes-to-be. This masterplan was uveiled and a party conference titled 50+ which apparently stood for percentage of support he wants to win in 2012 and was not code for “mid-life crisis”.

Truth be told, Janša might have a point. The government’s ratings are at an all-time low, SDS is comfortably leading public opinion polls and ruling Social Democrats are fighting off competition from Karl Erjavec’s DeSUS to keep second place, while LDS and Zares would barely make the cut, according to the latest public opinion poll. In theory, all Janša has to do is sit back and enjoy the ride.

How to tame your Karl

But as noted in the beginning, rumours of the coalition’s demise were grossly exaggerated. Not only did it take the parties in power surprisingly little time to find common ground, the supposedly down-and-out players on the left refused to go on the defensive and instead delivered a few well aimed punches of their own. Case in point being the sudden taming of Karl Erjavec and DeSUS who now suffer all the drawbacks of a single-issue party. Erjavec tried in vain to reopen the debate on pension reform. The move was apparently rejected flat-out which left him without political ammo, even though he was uttering words such as “street”, “protests” and “unrest”. The rest of the coalition was – on the surface at least – left unfazed by this and didn’t go beyond adopting Golobič’s proposal to seek cooperation with three independent MPs. As much as broadening the number of votes the coalition can count on in the parliament sans DeSUS, the move is aimed at taunting Karl Erjavec whose two former MPs are now independents and DeSUS leader made it plain that he is unhappy about being in the same boat with people he threw out of the party.

Then there is Zares’ constitutional bid. While it looks revolutionary on the outside (revamping referendum and election rules, establishing the mayor/MP conflict of interest and so forth), Golobič also said that he is willing to cooperate with Janša on this issue and since Janša said that is willing to cooperate with anybody (after all, this is the constitution we’re talking about), we’re supposedly looking at a Janša-Golobič led constitutional reform. Obviously, hell will freeze over before the above happens.

Taking the edge out

Neither of the constitutional bids are in pengovsky’s opinion what they appear to be. So far, Janša’s bid is only a thinly veiled attempt at gaining momentum to insert himself back at the top spot. The fact that the bid thus far lacks substance only reiterates the fact. Historically, the current leader of the opposition always looked for short-cuts to power. Be it referendums, no-confidence votes, calls for early elections or calls for constitutional reforms, Janša’s general aim in the past fifteen years was to gain power by almost any means possible. Ironically, the only time he didn’t fail in that enterprise was when he waited patiently and won the elections fair and square. But back then he also had substance and the electorate to back it up. Today, he has neither. Sure, he might be leading polls by a large margin, but when push comes to a shove, his own voters seem rather lukewarm and no longer support all of his bids en masse, case in point being the referendum on RTV Slovenia, where turnout was criminally low on both sides of political spectrum.

On the other hand, although carrying slightly more substance, Zares’ constitutional bid was very much tongue-in-cheek. Rather than jump-starting the long and painful constitutional process 18 months before elections, its primary function seems to be to take out the edge of Janša’s bid. Most of what Golobič wants can easily be achieved via normal legislative procedure and does not require a constitutional majority (two-thirds of all MPs in two consecutive votes). Thus the only real effect now is that Janša no longer monopolizes the debate on constitutional reform, which probably means that the issue will die out sooner rather than later.

Who stands to lose the most

Also, one must not forget that both Janša and Erjavec, while apparently giving the coalition a run for its money, have problems of their own especially with regard to Patria Affair, where they are facing their own respective trials, with Janša’s SDS in hot water also over financing its pre-election “free newspapers” Slovenski Tednik and Ekspres.

Point being that everyone, including Janša and Erjavec stand to lose a lot in the next eighteen months, especially given their current standing. Thus – illogical as it may seem- the one who stands to lose the least is the government of Borut Pahor. While pengovsky thinks that there’s more to its achievements than meets the eye, there’s no doubt that the general impression of this government is it being long-derailed, chaotic, inept, scandal-ridden and trying to run in several directions at the time. From this point on things can only go up. Whether or not they will, remains to be seen.

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Referendum On The Law On Menial Work: A Case Of Assisted Suicide

As of yesterday the Student organisation of Slovenia is collecting 40 000 signatures needed to hold a referendum on the recently passed Law on Menial Work. Yes, another referendum is looming, the second in as many months and god-knows-which in the entire history of this country. This is the same law that sent students (and pupils) to streets on 19 May last year and produced the final proof that on the whole they are a bunch of irresponsible brats who generally can’t tell their ass-hole from from their ear-hole. Case in point being the said referendum which is a) un-fucking-believable and b) stupid.


Student protests gone sour in May 2010 (source: the Firm™)

Starting with a) I’m amazed at how leaders of the student organisation have the balls to do anything but sit quietly in the corner and do as they’re told. I mean, whatever clout they had with the “grown-up” politics and the general public, they’ve lost it last May as far as I’m concerned. There you have an organisation and its various branches and dependencies with combined yearly budgets of about 16 million euro (no, it’s not a mistake), there’s no real oversight and almost zero consequences in case of any wrongdoing. But then a demo goes bad and rather than trying to contain the situation they split the scene and blame everyone else. So much for responsibility and cojones. And yet, once the dust is settled and miraculously no one is even forced to resign (let alone charged with endangering public safety or something like that) those very same people go for a referendum? What is this? Some kind of a Vaudeville act?

But it does not stop there. Not only is this latest referendum bid (while perfectly legal) very dicey from an ethical point of view. It is also b) one of the more shining examples of shooting oneself in the knee we’ve witnessed in the past year or so. And with that in mind it is little wonder that the student organisation enlisted help of labour unions. Hey, why fuck yourself when you can get ass-rammed by others and be treated to a dirty sanchez.

Namely: The law on menial work (malo delo, link in Slovene only) will largely overhaul student work in Slovenia which has in recent years become more or less the only form of employing young people, especially in the private sector. The problem, which soon became common to tens of thousands of young people was, that despite having worked more or less full time for years on end, this did not officially count as experience, nor did it add towards their retirement age. Since the state paid for student’s social security, the pension fund was none better off and therefore student officially had zero years of working experience. And since most companies required at lest a couple of years’ experience even for entry-level jobs, you can see where this leads to: one big vicious circle, where young people can’t get a job, as a result can’t get regular income, as a result of that they can’t get a loan with the bank and are thus unable to gain any firm footing of their own, creating the unhealthy environment of ever longer stays at mama-hotels.

That labour unions are assisting the student organisation in their self-destructive enterprise is a deviously Machiavellian act which is aimed at maintaining the status quo, i.e.: keeping the students at bay, obstructing their entry into the real labour market as much as possible. In other words – while the student organisation is committing suicide on the students’ behalf, the labour unions are happily assisting. Though it may seem otherwise, students have no representative in this is debate. The only one who possibly cares for their interest is the government with this law, but one shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that this is some kind of random act of human kindness. The law is a necessary element of shaking up the labour market and benefits it brings to the students are only a side-product of a larger enterprise.

What we have here is a situation where labour unions have long stopped representing “class interest” and are now only representatives of an ever-thinning group of people who want to retire as soon as possible, not caring about successive generations. Student organisations are also keen on keeping the status quo, primarily to maintain a cosy source of financing via “student agencies”, employment agencies dedicated exclusively to students, where they took a cut from every student’s income for “providing him/her with work”. If anyone is creating added value in this country, it is the high-skilled low-wage workforce (mostly students) but they are cannot expect any mid- or long-term rewards, thus only exasperating the problem of ever worse social security. But no one is speaking on their behalf, although everyone pretends to.

This is not an ideal law. Should it be enacted, the students will face increased job competition, because the unemployed and pensioners will compete for jobs previously held exclusively by students. However, the upside is that now the time spent working will count towards everyone’s pensions and work experience, students included. Furthermore, there will be no need to artificially extend student status (as was the accepted practice for the last twenty years) in order to be able to get work through “student agencies”, thus possibly radically reducing the amount of time people spend at the university. Right now it takes people seven-to-eight years on average to graduate in what is usually a four-to-five-year course.

So in general, students will be better of in mid- and long-term while they will quite probably be able to compensate short-term drawbacks by being better educated and more flexible than the competition of unemployed 45-year-olds or retired 65-year-olds, not to mention the fact that students probably wouldn’t touch the old farts’ jobs with a ten-foot pole in the first place.

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The Mother Of All Referendums (Slovenia Twenty Years After)

Twenty years ago on this day Slovenes voted on a referendum on independence. The question on 23 December 1990 was straightforward: Should Slovenia become a sovereign and independent country. The decision, as we know, was also fairly straightforward. With record voter turnout (93,5%) as much as 88,5% of all voters voted in favour on what will turn out to be the mother of all Slovenian referendum.


Official Gazette of Republic of Slovenia publishes the law on referendum on independence (source)

Twenty years later the situation seems all but hopeless. The crisis is in full swing, politics and politicians have virtually no credibility left and referendums are a-dime-a-dozen. In the words of the Charlie Watts quartet: You can’t always get what you want.

But really, is it that bad? On one hand, yes. I’m sure people would vote “no” in 1990 if the question would be something along the lines of “Do you want Slovenia to become a country of ever increasing social inequality, political bickering and a seemingly endless supply of either real or perceived scandals and corruption)”.

On the other hand, things are not that bad. I mean, they’re not that bad if one looks at them from the standpoint of 1990s. The issues we are faced with today are nothing compared to the issues Slovenia was facing back then. Twenty years ago it was about survival. It was about whether the nation can make a right choice collectively and hoping that this choice will be proven to have been right some time in the distant future. Today we can, regardless of the despair and dejectedness a lot of people are facing, say that the choice was right. And although – with the power of hindsight – it looks today that it was the only logical choice, that was not the case. It could all have ended very very badly. But it didn’t. Thankfully.

Anniversaries are a welcome interruption to our daily routine and they often remind us that there are issues bigger than our daily problems. That anniversaries are often used or misused to promote a particular political goal is regretful but no-one will get killed over it. That myths are being constructed is also just a sad fact. That Slovenia will today witness not one, but two celebrations – one official organised by the governement of Borut Pahor, the other one organised by Janez Janša and people who claim they represent “the true values” of Slovene independence is a curious fact which serves some immediate political purpose of the opposition, but nothing beyond that.

Because (as the good doctor often says), what everyone keeps forgetting is that there would be no independence without the people of this country, who bit the bullet and leapt into the unknown. That a selected group of individuals today claims exclusive rights to interpretation of events around 23 December 2010 is demeaning to this nation.

Independence today is what we make of it, for better or for worse. Reminding us “what it was all about” helps, but only to the point where it saves us from making the same mistake over and over. Anything beyond that is counter-productive. And there seems to be a lot of that going around lately. And in times of crisis one shuns what is not helpful 😀

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One More For The Road

Q: How much must a Slovene drink to score .25 on a breathalyzer test? A: Nothing for at least three days.


Ex-minister Gjerkeš during an interview for The Firm™ (source)

Minister for local self-government and regional policy Henrik Gjerkeš resigned yesterday after being taken into custody by the police for driving under the influence at 4 AM on Tuesday whilst returning home from ministry’s end-of-the-year party. Apparently he scored .63 on breathalyzer test, which is not at all surprising if one takes into account the fact that the party apparently started at 2 PM on Monday. While it is not known whether Gjerkeš was there for the entire fourteen hours, one can imagine that he did put some back into it. Especially given the fact that he was pulled over for driving on a motorway with a flat tyre. Oh, and he was driving a government Audi :mrgreen:

Obviously, Gjerkeš had no choice but to resign immediately, putting additional strain on an already embattled government of Borut Pahor. That quick resignation minimised the media and political fallout is a no-brainer, but it has started a chain of events which will further drain energy and resources of the government in general and the prime minister in particular.

Techincally, Gjerkeš was appointed by the parliament and it is the parliament who will a) have to note his resignation and b) appoint his successor. This will apparently be Duša Trobec Bučan who until now served as state secretary in Gjerkeš’s ministry and was his right-hand woman. The mechanics of the transfer are relatively straightforward, doubly so given the fact this is in fact a ministerial position without portfolio and that the Ministry for local self-government is in fact a government office, elevated to ministry status on a per-government basis.

However, the new would-be minister will first have to attend a parliamentary hearing in front of appropriate committees and then she and PM Pahor will have to go though a special session of the parliament where you can be sure no punches will be pulled. Doubly so because this ministry is in charge of acquiring EU cohesion funds and the sight of €€€ being pumped into his/her constituency makes many an MP go rabid. Doubly so if they also serve as mayors in their respective municipalities.

Gjerkeš’s resignation might seem normal and the only decent thing to do – and it is – but the sad truth is that it does set new standards in Slovenian politics, since there are well documented cases of MPs driving under the influence and even causing accidents and yet they not only got away with it, they even got re-elected. Pengovsky knows of one other case years when a minister caused a traffic accident (no one was hurt) and not only did he get away with it, he even managed to put a lid on it and the media didn’t report it. He later bragged about it to pengovsky during (the irony) one of many end-of-the-year receptions.

Bottom line: this was a totally stupid mistake to make on Gjerkeš’s part. Especially since he turned out to be quite capable, regardless of his virtual anonymity before becoming minister. As it is, he is now only a statistic – the sixth minister PM Pahor will have to replace, the second in this particular office.

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